Real estate has gained a lot from the digital evolution — not the least of which is the move from print to online advertising.
Before the internet, The Wall Street Journal offered a residential page that cost a fortune for a small photo and a bit of copy. There was a time when we were spending more than $200,000 per year in newspaper advertising alone, and we weren't even spending as much as some other firms.
Today, that $200,000 covers our entire advertising budget for digital media, television, and radio.
Online advertising allows agents to create ads that are more appealing and more interactive, the impact of which can be tracked in real time. Where we once had small pictures and a few words, we now have virtual tours of beautiful homes accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Matterport, a tool that lets buyers virtually walk through the home, is the current buzzword in marketing listings. It started out selling for $250 per listing and now can be easily found for $100. Our agents control their own social media advertising for as low as $20, further empowering us to make a bigger impact through a smaller investment.
Expanding Geographical Boundaries
That digital evolution helped us take Windermere Group One from the local to the state level — and even, at times, the national level.
Right now, for instance, two of our agents are working on a condo listing for $1 million. That’s a big price for this area, but thanks to digital media, they can target prospects from areas all over the region, enticing them to the property with high-def images and video.
People who see our $1 million condo will think about how that property would cost $4 million in their area, leading them to see the other benefits of living in our community. Real estate might be local, but the next buyer might not be.
Of course, new technology brings challenges as well as opportunities. Many businesses struggle to keep up with the latest tools or are unable to break through the noise of the intense competition to get the agent's attention. At our REALTOR® convention, for instance, hundreds of vendors claim they know the best way to get leads, promote an agency, or promote an agent's individual listings.
Even when a vendor offers a good product, agents are so focused on their current clients and where their next client is coming from (chasing the shiny object) that they fail to create a sustainable business. In fact, they lose clients to other agents, even though they may have long-standing relationships, because they failed to stay top of mind.
Today, people are very busy and seem to be constantly running either behind schedule or to the next scheduled event. It's harder to reach out in person, but it only takes three or four personal contacts a year to stay top of mind with a client. Not every client will move again soon, but everyone knows someone who will — and the agents who stay engaged are first in line for word-of-mouth referrals.
Even though we can market our listings everywhere, it doesn't follow that we should be selling real estate everywhere. The REALTOR® Code of Ethics advocates that REALTORS® work within their scope of expertise. Basically, that means listing and selling homes in areas that you're very familiar with — regardless of the draw to bigger markets, which might produce bigger commissions.
When we work outside our area, we don't know inspectors, lenders, appraisers, and vendors who can help get the transaction closed efficiently. As a result, we may just fail our clients and fail to close the transaction.
Making the Most of Digital
To get the most from my digital tools, I follow these three real estate marketing best practices:
1. Lean on your CRM.
I use our CRM program, Moxi, almost every day. This tool gives me access to all our agents, clients, customers, friends, prospects, and everyone else related to the business. We use this program to help our agents stay in touch using neighborhood news, emails about new listings, and market updates.
Keep customer and prospect data updated and accurate. Use a cloud-based CRM so people can edit information from anywhere. While only 12 percent of businesses had cloud CRMs in 2008, that number today is 87 percent, which means companies without a modern CRM put themselves at a market disadvantage.
2. Follow transactions closely.
Paperless Pipeline helps me keep track of every agent transaction in progress, active listings, and past transactions — all in real time. When I meet with our agents, I use this software to go through their last few deals, asking when they last talked to their buyers after the house closed.
This helps us keep personal relationships strong. With about half of leads coming from referrals now, those relationships can make the difference between an OK year and a great one.
3. Get social.
According to the National Association of REALTOR®, 91 percent of REALTORS® used social media in 2014. That was four years ago, and if that figure isn’t up to 100 percent by now, it should be.
Facebook and LinkedIn are constantly open on our computers, so we can check to see who else in our agent’s friend list the last buyer might know. We use LinkedIn to track our buyers’ professional relationships, which helps agents discover new people to contact. These websites provide our agents with a deep pool of information that shows them just how connected the world is — and where their opportunities lie.
Our staff members may spend their workday connected online. But we ask our agents to spend time on office work in the morning and use the afternoon to interact with their clients and friends: attending sporting events, school events, and community functions.
Digital tools have revolutionized the real estate industry in a positive way, but only firms that understand how to keep up with and leverage these tools will keep their agents customer-focused. By following these best practices, we ensure that we get the most from our real estate technology.
Jeff Thompson is managing partner at Windermere Group One, a real estate network comprised of 300 offices and more than 6,000 agents throughout the western United States. Jeff is truly passionate about helping build companies by building their people. He leverages his 25-plus years of experience in real estate to coach other managers and brokers. Jeff credits much of his success to hard work and a willingness to partner with good people.
Dee Boyle, Windermere Marketing Specialist